Aoradh Wilderness Retreat 2017: Eilean Dubh Mor…


This year, we went here. 11 of us, old friends and some retreating for the first time.

It was a small island, one which even I had passed by and hardly noticed. But it was lovely. More than lovely, it was beautiful. A tiny jewel of a place, with a pebbled coast line punctuated by deep dry caves (we even slept in one. Or we would have slept, had it not been for the phantom snorer…)

The island is small, but big enough to do that thing that islands do; they expand to become your whole world. After landing (courtesy of Seafari) we explored, searching for shelter from the wind and above all, water. It has been so dry of late that water was in short supply- we found none running, apart from the odd drip from a shaded cliff face, so we had to manage with dark brown water taken from brackish pools. I have drunk far worse however, despite the chlorine tablets.

As usual we divided our time between stillness and laughter. We cooked over fires, making bread in an stone oven and cooking pancakes on hot rocks pulled back from the flames. We roasted lamb and shared a meal of haggis.

As usual, Crawford was in just the right place to whisper in an Otter’s ear. We saw a school of dolphins (we think they were the relatively rare Risso’s dolphins) on the hunt. Golden Eagles flew overhead and all sorts of feathered things flitted in and through the trees that grow in the sheltered places.

I stood on the high place – a volcanic plug on one end of the island – and all around me were old friends, islands where we have been before. The Garvellachs on one side, Scarba and Jura off in the distance, Lunga shouldered close.

But the real friendship was found in the company I kept. Sharing life like this is not just a pleasure, somehow is seems to make me a better person. In giving, I receive so much more. In hearing a mixture of stories, some of real hardship, some of great progress, my life is deeply enriched. Deep thanks to those of you who came this time. May each and every one of you journey well. Apart from the Phantom snorer. Whoever you are.

Thanks to the owner of the island, Mr Cadzow, for sharing it with us.

Some photos;


Taking kids into the wilderness…

cross, MacCormaig isles, eilean mor

We are just back from a trip out to the MacCormaig Islands with a group of friends along with their kids. The idea for the trip arose from discussions about taking young people out to experience wild places, away from electricity, screens, amenities.

The island we chose was one that offered some protection from the elements (and as it happens, the midges) as it had a well maintained bothy. It is also a little less wild than some- having generally less severe terrain. It is not without interest though- having an ancient chapel, a hermits cave and a beautiful cove ideal for swimming. We were accompanied by a pair of otters, seals and countless sea birds.

It worked. All out kids, ranging in age from 6 to 14 seemed captivated by the place, despite the challenges of weather, wet boots and of course the midges.

I will reflect on this some more in the future, but for now, here are some photos;


The Edge of the World…

I have been really busy this week making a bedroom for William out of one of our scruffy box rooms. This always involves far more work than you think- particularly when you want to make the most out of a small space. He is delighted with his new room, and this means that his old room, with amazing views out over the Clyde, can start it’s transformation into a B and B room.

In the middle of all the chaos I sat down with a cup of tea and flicked on the TV, and a film was showing that I had heard about, but never seen- an old Michael Powell  film, made in 1937 called ‘The Edge of the World‘.

The film was Powell’s first feature film and grew out of his fascination with the changes happening out on the edge of the British Isles- the depopulation of St Kilda in 1930 in particular. He wanted to film there but it just was not practical, so he made his film on another wild wonderful island- Foula, 20 miles West of the Shetland Islands. The cast and crew lived there for several months, even having to build their own dwellings.

I think this film, dated as it is, contains fascinating glimpses of a life now gone in our far flung islands. A time before air travel or fast ferries and mobile telephones. A time of the corncrake at the edge of hand harvested fields and hands twisted from hard work.

Anyone who has spent time in any of these isolated wild places will know that they can have the capacity to change you inside. Powell went back to Foula in 1978, thankfully still with a thriving community, and made another film for the BBC. He too had been shaped and changed by the islands.

This is one of the reasons why I take my own pilgrimages out into the Hebrides whenever I can. We will be heading out again in a couple of weeks.

Hmmm- I feel another plug coming on; if anyone wants to join one of our wilderness pilgrimages you may like to check out some of the photo’s and info on our Facebook page.

All good things come to an end…


So we are home…

After two weeks of travel, 13 different islands a holiday cottage, a posh hotel and a few campsites. We had sun, rain, wind and glorious sunsets. Waves crashed and then the water stilled to become a green blue mirror…

It was a great holiday, but it is always good to be back home.

We had an eventful last few days. The wind bent a tent pole on one of the tents, hence the posh hotel, which was a real treat (we stayed at the Isle of Barra hotel– quite a place!)

So, a few more photos, and then the let the memories linger…

Scarba- Aoradh wilderness trip…

(L to R) Simon R, Nick, David, Andy, Simon M and me

(L to R) Simon R, Nick, David, Andy, Simon M and me

I am just back from our visit to the beautiful Scarba

6 of us went out on Saturday, via a chartered boat from Ardfern. The intention was to find some space inside and out, and try out some of the wilderness meditations we have been working on (see here for a selection.)

Scarba is a small island Between Mull and Jura in the Inner Hebrides off the Argyll coastline. It is surrounded by some of the most dramatic tidal waters in the world. To the east is the Gulf of Corryvrecken, with it’s famous whirlpool. On the other side, the Grey dogs tidal race.

The forecast was rotten, but we had two glorious days, with the occasional shower making the sky and sea all the more dramatic. I have a sun burnt head as I forgot a hat!

We were camping, but had the use of a bothy for evenings and shelter- thanks to the owners of the Island for their generosity in letting us use it!

So we abseiled down cliffs, explored caves, scrambled over heather and bog, set up meditation walks, sat around fires, walked ancient mysterious flagged pathways, and stood on places where early Christian monks worshiped. The deer and wild goats watched from a distance, and overhead a Sea Eagle wheeled in the wind.

Oh and we laughed. We laughed a lot. Whiskey was shared and bad jokes honoured.

Single malt, smoke, sharing

Single malt, smoke, sharing

Part of my motivation for visiting places like this should be obvious from what I have already written. For me, however, there are other things driving me.

Men and spirituality.

Not easy bedfellows.

Men do lots of theological arguing, and perhaps like a nice new project. But setting time aside to seek God- this tends to be a rather alien thing. A huge generalisation I know- but one that may well have some truth.

So I set to wondering whether the problem was not we blokes and the curse of trying to be masculine in the post modern age, but rather the problem was the way the Christian church has anchored and shackled spirituality to a narrow set of activities within organised structures.

What if there are other ways- old and new ways that seek God in small adventures, and in wilderness, and in communing around fires with a good bottle?

Here are some photos from our trip (click to enlarge)…